The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers – Kansas Jayhawks

West Virginia and Kansas both have excellent starting running backs. They also have excellent backup running backs. In fact, those “backups” are such in name only, as each has put up numbers comparable to or better than some of those of the starters in front of them.

WVU’s Alex Sinkfield, the slashing complement to Leddie Brown’s power, is averaging 6.7 yards per carry and has 219 offensive yards in three games. Velton Gardner, in support of Jayhawk star Pooka Williams, has 182 rushing yards and is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt, better than Williams’ 4.4.

In crafting defensive game plans, the coordinators of both teams can’t look for a breather when the starting running backs are out of the game. This could, in fact, be one of the determining factors in the contest. Brown and Williams are obviously in the spotlight in pregame match-up factors, but Sinkfield and Gardner could, and probably will, have just as much to say about the outcome.

Watch Sinkfield and Gardner, and track their performances. How does each offense do with them on the field? Can they continue to produce at the same level as their backfield mates?  Does the offense look any different when they are on the field? Think of each as not a sub, but as option 1B to their counterparts’ 1A.

West Virginia (2-1/1-1) vs. Kansas (0-3/0-2) Sat Oct 17   12:00 PM ET
Milan Puskar Stadium Morgantown, WV TV: FOX
Poll: WVU – 34  KU – NR Series: WVU 8-1 Last Game: WVU 29-24
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It’s a story that plays out at practically every school in the country. A ballyhooed freshman signs with a program, and is accorded star status by many before he has ever run one rep on the practice field. Or, a new player makes an appearance in an early season game (as often as not a blowout of an inferior foe) and puts up some good numbers. That is also met with high praise, and often outsized expectations.

Then, over the next couple of weeks, the player drops from view, leading to all sorts of speculation, some reasoned, and much of a more ridiculous nature.

For West Virginia, one of the players this year that fits into that category is freshman wide receiver Sam Brown. After a debut against Eastern Kentucky in which he caught four passes for 43 yards, some were ready to anoint him as the king of the wide receiving corps. When he didn’t play in WVU’s next two games, many of the same people reversed their assessments.

“With any young player that has a chance to show great promise, if you are not careful, those guys playing in game one puts the thought in many people’s heads – media, parents, family, the player – that it’s easy. I don’t think that’s fair,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “Sam Brown is going to be a great player. But he has some habits we have discussed that he needs to continue to grow upon.  He has to be accountable and know what it means to be a great player all the time and not just on game day. He’s growing like every freshman has to. He’s learning how to practice the right way. He’s learning how to be at lifts at 6:00 a.m. on time, and embracing what it means to be a college football player.”

Parker’s comments could apply to any number of players — indeed, he mentioned that this sort of growing process extended back through the start of his coaching career. Without question he was taking this chance to send another message to Brown, but it’s also an instructive point for fans and observers. One great game doesn’t mean a player has arrived, and a couple of “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision” notations don’t mean he’s a bust.

Brown could be back on the field this week against Kansas, as WVU is planning to work with more wide receivers in the rotation. Tracking those in the game at the receiver positions – along with their productivity – is also well worth the effort this week.

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Miles Kendrick will be the third Kansas quarterback to start a game this year when he takes the field for the first Jayhawk offensive snap against the Mountaineers. KU’s other two QBs, Thomas MacVittie and Jalon Daniels, have suffered injuries, but even though MacVittie is available for duty this week, Kendrick will get the job. (Daniels is questionable for the WVU game.)

That raises a tactical question. Facing a QB that has played in just six career games and thrown 62 passes, should WVU go all out to pressure him? Or does concern about the talented running tandem in the backfield hold sway, and keep more attention focused on that aspect of the offense?

Without question, if West Virginia can get KU into passing downs, it can be expected to heat up the pocket. It’s also not going to give up on trying to create penetration and force disruption across the line of scrimmage. However, the fact that a foe has inexperience at quarterback doesn’t mean that WVU is going to focus on that to the exclusion of other threats.

* * * * * *

The Mountaineers and Jayhawks have played a total of 25 true freshmen so far this year, but the playing time of the first year palyers on each squad illustrates the differences in the current state of the programs. KU has had three true freshman starters, and saw seven underclassmen play at least 40 snaps in its most recent game against Oklahoma State.

For West Virginia, offensive lineman Zach Frazier and defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor are the only two players who have played significant roles, although wide receiver Reese Smith and cornerback Daryl Porter Jr. could be moving in that direction.

WVU WEATHER

Those expecting a blowout this year should remember that last year’s game was nothing of the sort. WVU led just 20-17 after three quarters, and KU outgained the Mountaineers 417-394.

West Virginia does look improved from last year, and the Jayhawks appear to have taken a couple of backward steps. But WVU has not gotten to the point as a program where it can roll its helmets out on the field and expect a win.

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Home Page forums The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers – Kansas Jayhawks

Home Page forums The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers – Kansas Jayhawks